Chinese Fishing in Galapagos

Ecuador Deploys Armed Forces to the Galapagos Islands against Chinese Fleets

View of the Chinese-flagged ship confiscated by the Ecuadorean Navy in the waters of the Galapagos marine reserve, on August 25, 2017. 
The Ecuadorian Navy reported on August 14, 2017 that a Chinese-flagged vessel had been seized in the Galapagos Marine Reserve carrying some 300 tons of fish, including several endangered species such as the hammerhead shark.  / AFP PHOTO / JUAN CEVALLOS

Last Thursday, the President of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, ordered the Ecuadorian navy and air force to be deployed to the border of the Galapagos Marine Reserve to protect the ecosystem from what he calls “predatory” and “unacceptable” actions by Chinese fishing vessels. Ecuadorian Vice President Otto Sonnenholzner has confirmed that 245 fishing vessels have been detected just two miles from the marine reserve, and Ecuador is considering additional actions to ensure the reserve’s safety.

It is believed that the international fleet has been exploiting the waters around the Galapagos Marine Reserve for several months. March, April and May see a large variety of marine species pass through this region due to its extremely rich waters, which likewise make them excellent fishing grounds. Nevertheless, the Ecuadorian Minister of Defense, Oswaldo Jarrin, assured the country that the vessels have not yet violated the nation’s sovereignty by entering the marine reserve itself.

Additional Action to Protect the Galapagos

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A P-3 Orion airplane has been deployed by the United States to periodically monitor the Galapagos National Park and surrounding marine reserve with radar technology to detect any illegal fishing activities. Additionally, the international fleet of Chinese vessels is being monitored by the online Automatic Identification System, coast guard patrols and the navy. President Moreno has declared that any parties selling hydrocarbons to these international fleets will be detained for fuel trafficking and environmental crimes. Any fishing vessel that enters the Galapagos Marine Reserve in non-compliance with the regulations will be detained and subject to investigation.

The impact of the international fishing vessels is currently being evaluated to determine whether the marine reserve is large enough to withstand the rates of exploitation. At the same time, Ecuador is preparing to double down on its marine security and initiate talks with the Chinese government to discuss the matter. President Moreno himself has requested that the Ecuadorian chancellor, Jose Valencia, meet with the newly appointed Chinese ambassador in a diplomatic protest to these commercial actions.

Vice President Sonnenholzner has stated that the Ecuadorian government is looking into the possibility of promoting an international process to increase the size of the marine reserve in the event it is not large enough to sustain current fishing rates. The Galapagos Marine Reserve currently covers an area of more than 50,000 square miles, making it the second largest marine reserve in the world. Previous analyses have determined that fishing conducted outside of the reserve has not harmed its fragile ecosystem.

Endangered Species in the Galapagos

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The safety and success of the Galapagos Marine Reserve is of particular importance due to the large quantity of Cartilaginous fish found here (including sharks, sting rays and chimaeras), which happens to be one of the most critically endangered types of vertebrate in the world. The World Wildlife Fund determined that shark populations and other large oceanic predators around the world have dropped by 90% since World War II due to fishing, and an average of 100 million sharks alone are captured each year. This severe overfishing of shark populations has led to environmental degradation and altered the ecological balance of many parts of the world’s oceans.

This is unfortunately not the first time that Ecuador has faced concerns regarding Chinese fishing vessels. In August of 2017, the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 was detained along the eastern side of San Cristobal Island carrying 300 tons of illegally caught fish. Among them were five species of shark included in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.